History, Research, and Current Themes

"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

Search This Blog & Links


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Personal Note: Older Than John Brown

I started the serious study of John Brown in the later part of the 1990s, and while I was no longer a young man at the time, I was able to speak of him as the "old man" in a manner that corresponded to my own age.

I don't have the citation for this, but somewhere along the line I read that Brown was first called "Old Brown" in Kansas, to distinguish him from John Brown Junior.   But John senior also had aged in appearance by the late 1850s: his hair mostly grayed, and his long beard--which he wore from 1858 until his execution in December 1859 (although it was cropped much shorter at the time of the Harper's Ferry raid)--was quite gray.   He looked like a man in his late sixties, and this was probably more so because his complexion was worn, his health was beset by the ague, and he walked with a slight stoop in his later years.  So even in John Brown's lifetime, people took him for an older man and called him "old man" or "Old Brown" because he was older in appearance than many of his associates in the field.  This is nowhere more evident than his little army at Harper's Ferry.  Most of that brave association were young men, the oldest being Dangerfield Newby, who fell at the Ferry being no more than forty-four years of age.  The rest of the Harper's Ferry raiders were truly young men, and to them Brown was an old man, even if he was wiry, tough, and active.

For twenty years, my role as a "lifetime" student of John Brown has allowed me to speak of John Brown as "the old man" without a second thought.  But this week I turned sixty years of age, and now I'm older than John Brown, who is forever fifty-nine.  I know that I'm not alone in this experience, and a choir of witnesses have preceded me likewise in this experience, including the late Clarence Gee and Boyd Stutler, who exhausted their aged years by studying the "old man."

Still, when I blew out the candles on my birthday cake the other day, the Old Man crossed my mind for a second.  He did so last year too, when I turned fifty-nine, and being John Brown's age all year was sort of an aside for me throughout the year.  But as of this week, it's official.   I'm older than John Brown.

But don't get it twisted: there's only room on this blog for one Old Man.--LD


Unknown said...

Belated happy birthday from a regular follower....maybe you should repost your June 25 blog in light of this weekends events.

Unrelated, I live in Iowa City and am familiar with JBs presence in West Branch / Springville / Tipton area but was unaware of the family's visit to Decorah, interesting read. We drive by there 1-2 times a month, now I we will have to stop.

Anyway...Do you no anything about John Brown (jr.sr.?) staying at Wasonville Iowa during one of his/their trips. May have been have involved an injured horse? Wasonville was 15-20 miles SW of Iowa City just N of present day Wellman. Happy Wanderings...k.hurd

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

Thanks Kevin Hurd.

As a matter of fact, I did a piece about JB in Wassonville last year. See this blog, July 7, 2016--John Brown’s Iowa Correspondence, July 1857. I learned some things writing that one.

Regards and thanks again

Barb Smith Patchett said...

Hello Mr DeCaro,

My brother is the genealogist, not me. But I was googling pseudonyms of John Brown because we (my brothers and I) believe that John Brown used our great-great grandfather's name - James Smith as a pseudonym.

James L Smith was in the first graduating class of Oberlin College (a strong abolitionist college). James L Smith was in the same class as Fairchild who became President of Oberlin. James received his bachelors and masters at Oberlin.

James L Smith was an early colonist of Tabor, Iowa and one of the founding fathers of Tabor College. He was a good friend of Rev Todd Smith and lived half a block from him. James Smith lived in a two story house just across from the Tabor City Park where Brown's men practiced their routines. And as you know, Brown visited Tabor several times. I read in one place that said James L Smith was a firm friend of John Brown and was one of the Underground Conductors. James' son, Charles W. Smith was also a strong abolitionist (There seems to have been a Charles W. Smith in Lawrence, Kansas who was a strong abolitionist - I don't know if that was James' son). James Smith was very involved in the town of Tabor. Rev Todd had him draw up the first town plat.

My brother and I visited Oberlin College and looked at the archives last year. They had a letter written by James L Smith, and he signed it as Jas L Smith with two dots, either above the "s" on Jas or below it which I found odd.

My brother and I just came from visiting Tabor two weeks ago. It looks like James Smith had 297 acres right off the Tabor City Park. I also got copies of the minutes of the first Tabor meetings which I hope sheds some light on James' activities.

By looking at your Blog, I know you have a large and strong understanding of John Brown. I apologize that I sound amateur - which I am. I am new, have patience with me.

Barbara Smith Patchett

Louis A. DeCaro, Jr. . . said...

Dear Barbara,

Thanks for your note. I'm very pleased to learn about James Smith and I tend to agree with John Brown's use of his name. I do not think Brown used invented names, and seems to have appropriated names of his contemporaries. I did a post about this on Aug. 5, 2009. You can find it here:



Alice Keesey Mecoy said...

While there will always be one "The Old Man" to those of us who study Brown, I am going to start affectionately calling you "Old Man".
Alice Keesey Mecoy